By Natisha Mallick:
Running since 2005, it is one of India’s toughest and worlds’ 3rdÂ most challenging mountain biking stage race. This year is the 7thÂ edition of India’s premier Mountain Biking challenge Hercules MTB Himachal 2011 organized by HASPTA and supported by Himachal Tourism flagged off on October 1st, 2011.
I got a chance to attend it when I was invited by a friend of mine to attend the Flag off of this prestigious race.
The journey started on 28th September when we reach theÂ Himachal Bhawan, New Delhi to catch our Volvo bus ride to Shimla at 10:00 pm.Â We reached Shimla early morning next day. The refreshing fresh air of the mountains totally removed any signs of fatigue. Thanks to the organizers of the race, our accommodation was already in place at the Hotel Himani at The Mall Road. And what a discount we got!!! just Rs. 334Â for a two night -three day stay.
My roommate there, Ekta Aswani was a photography enthusiast and one of the many volunteers who had come from all over India for the race . We chatted for a long time about the race and Shimla.
Next day the registration process for the cyclists was going on at the Hotel Holiday Home, which was 10 minutes down the hill from my hotel. When I reached there, I found a long queue for the registration, but what caught my eye was people assembling their bikes. All of these bikes were looking so colorful and tempting that I started contemplating riding one myself !!
There I met Andre Deplechin from France , a 60 year old “young” man who has been participating for past many years. He has been a multiple times winner in the Men’s category (above 40 years of age). Andre lives in Pondicherry where he runs a Leather Goods’ store.
As if I was not amazed to meet Andre, I saw something very interesting thing, a man riding a bike without any shoes!Â I had to know the reason behind this and that is when I got to meet Dutta Patil.
This 40 year old man from a small village Sangli in Maharashtra has been participating in the MTB Himachal since the very beginning (2005). On being asked why he chooses not to wear shoes, he says- “I belong to a very poor family of farmers and we never had the money to buy any shoes and now that I earn about 10 Lakhs each year from my farming and can afford to buy shoes, I don’t feel comfortable wearing them and can’t walk with shoes on.”
At around 2pm there was a press conference at The Hotel Combermere, located at the heart of The Mall Road, which was also a 5min walk from the place where registration was happening.
Sushil Tanwar of Ashadeep NGO was here to show their support for the cycling event. This NGO is working for the environment.
At 6:00 pm there was an official briefing scheduled for the cyclists but it got delayed. It was here while clicking some snaps I got to meet a very shy lady, mother of a year old girl, Gangu who started cycling when she was a kid for going to school. She has participated in many road cycling events including Mass Start, Track Events, Time Trials to name a few. she said “Â This is the first time that I would be participating in a mountain biking challenge to test my endurance “
It was satisfying day for someone like me who thrives on meeting new and interesting people.
Next day was the race day and I got up early to catch the participants warming up and to click some photographs in the morning light. I met a contingent of Weekend Cyclists from gurgaon , most of whom were from the corporate world.
At 10:15 am came the Flag off moment of the race.Â The riders congregated at Hotel Ritz and the race was flagged off on October1st 2011 by Smt. Manisha Nanda (IAS, Principal secretary, Himachal Tourism and Civil Aviation) along with Sh. Onkar Singh, Secretary General of the cycling federation of India.
The race runs in four categories namely Men, Women, Teams and Masters (above 40years of age)
The Event which started with 11participation in 2005 is on an all time high with 85 participation of which 46 riders would be doing the wholeÂ event rideÂ and 39 riders would be doing theÂ Weekend Racer.The total budget of this year’s event is 40lakhs, with total prize money of 6lakhs to be won.
This year the MTB Himachal also introduced a new award in the memory of Suzanne Allen (who lost her life earlier this year in a mountaineering accident) -Â “Suzanne Allen Best Sportsperson Trophy”.
I got the best seat among the audience , thanks to the organisers again , I got to pillion on the race marshall’s bike, and got the best angles for my photographs !!
This race will run for 9 days with one rest day, with racers coming back to the flag off point after reaching Kullu-Sarahan. It covers a total distance of 504 kms.
Unfortunately I wont be there to witness the adventures of rest of the race as I had to catch my ride back home to Delhi the same day. So i got off at Sanjauli Chowk after riding pillion for 7 kms .
I got some great shots and headed back towards my hotel by catching a local bus till the Mall Road.
I reached Delhi on 2ndÂ morning at 0600hrs.